How To Fly On a Plane: A Slightly Sarcastic Checklist

I’ve started writing this post a hundred times on a hundred flights after being annoyed by fellow passengers. Sometimes the post was sarcastic, other times downright mean but never have I actually completed or published this tutorial. Today is different. Today I think it’s finally time to pull the trigger on the post and while I still may be sarcastic at times, I never try to be mean.

I understand that most people don’t travel a lot and that’s fine. I don’t want to make fun of anyone or suggest people should travel as much as I do, they should not. Instead my issues with fellow passengers aren’t trade secrets known only to frequent fliers or other members of a non-existent fraternity indoctrinated in the ways of security lines and first class lounges. No, this is different, this is common sense. Sadly, common sense doesn’t appear to be very common hence this post. So whether or not you’ve never flown before or you’ve been on a 1,000 flights, take a read and follow these easy steps on how to fly on a plane.

Security – Security is an intimidating process, I understand that. But it’s been more than ten years since the tragedy of 9/11 and the increased security measures taken at airports. While these measures have evolved over time, the fact remains that it’s been a decade and every passenger should really be able to deal with them by now. I don’t care if you haven’t boarded a single plane in 17.2 years, there’s a box called the TV and a smaller box called the computer and both routinely feature gazillions of stories about airport security. It’s in commercials, TV shows, movies, featured in books, short stories, blogs, cartoons, petroglyphs chiseled by a small tribe in Africa  – all of these outlets have complained ad nauseum about how horrible it is to take off your super cool high tops and there is no reason, barring a coma or internment in a North Korean prison camp that can excuse not knowing the security procedures before arriving at the airport.

Once you’ve reached the line, and because you’re haven’t been interned in a North Korean prison camp, you know that it’s not really hard to pass through the line.

You basically have to do four things:

  1. Take off your shoes, even super cool hipster high tops
  2. Remove all shiny, metally things from one’s person.
  3. Remove that MacBook Air or other laptops from your bag
  4. No gels! No liquids! Nothing more than 3 ounces! Put them in the Ziploc Bag of Protection, kindly provided by Homeland Security.

The threats against the country are many and enigmatic and it’s not for me to question the security efforts in place. So I won’t. And it doesn’t really matter because no amount of kvetching by a gay, 30-something travel blogger in Maryland is going to change anything and you’re not going to change anything either, so just follow the damn rules and be ready in advance. None of this should be a surprise people! And if you need some time because you have an injury, thirty children or are elderly, that’s fine. I understand that and I’d like to think most frequent fliers do too. Just relax, but be methodical.

At the gate – Congratulations, you’ve made it past security and managed to match the letters and numbers on your boarding pass to the ones at the gate. This is one of the easiest parts of the flying process since all you really have to do is sit on your ass and wait until the flight starts to board. But that’s the key isn’t it? Most people don’t realize that this is the deceptively challenging part of the flying process. The average person doesn’t seem to possess the inner peace and calm it requires to sit quietly and wait for their turn to board. Most airlines, in the US at least, board their flights in a certain prescribed way. For the legacy airlines this takes the form of zones. Every person has their own zone and the theory is that they only are allowed to board with their zone.

And yet, before almost every flight every single passenger, down to the formally mild grandma rushes the gate, as if they’re gunning for the last boat on the Titanic. The psychology of this is interesting, there’s a certain competitive spirit here, no doubt about that. But it’s also a practical concern thanks to the airlines’ policies regarding baggage fees. Instead of paying the $1,942 dollars to check a thirty-pound bag, fliers have opted to instead pretend that their steamer trunks are carry-on bags. Assisting them in these shenanigans are the airlines themselves. Apparently most flight attendants feel bad and let passengers board with their 1912 replica Louis Vuitton trunk, complete with Sherpa. (Sherpas are considered a personal item) Hence, people want to board as early as possible in order to stow their uncommonly large bag.

To stop this the airlines need to do one of two things:

1) Stop charging fees (never, ever, ever, ever, ever going to happen)

2) Enforce their own policies (More likely, but still not very likely)

So, it’s up to you my fellow passenger to either bring a smaller bag or wait for your zone to be called and hope for the best. But please, do not have your Sherpa shove me aside to skip ahead in line; it makes me cranky and likely to write an unnecessarily long and sarcastic blog post.

Getting on the plane – It’s surprisingly easy to annoy your fellow passengers while boarding a plane. There are a few simple steps anyone can take to be annoying.

The first is to have no idea what your seat number is, even though the boarding pass is in your hand. Wandering a 757 aimlessly is a sure fire way to cause a delay and raise the ire of many.

While walking to your seat please make sure that your carry-on bag is angled in such a way that it smacks everyone you pass. I always sit in an aisle seat and I am permanently bruised thanks to these thoughtless, careless, insensitive souls. I’ve even, sort of politely, asked people not to smack me in the noggin and all I get in response is befuddlement. Their look says, “From where have you emerged human?” Shock and surprise at being confronted by another person on a sold out flight, they usually shrug and continue giving soldiers and the elderly alike mild concussions.

Finally, after you’ve located your seat forget about sitting down, use this time to stand in the aisle and rummage through your bags. It would be far too simple to wait until after everyone has boarded to do this, so don’t. In reality, there is no reason to rummage through your aforementioned Vuitton trunk, even though it is lovely in a plutocratic kind of way, to find your third copy of “In Touch Star Real Housewives Said What?!” Magazine. What you do manage to accomplish is to once again delay everyone behind you and hold up the aircraft. So sit down!

DCA Gates and Tarmac

Deplaning – Ok, you’ve managed to survive the flight by not annoying the closest 100 people to you, congratulations but now is not the time to slack off! How you get off the plane says a lot about you so don’t muck it up. Here’s a hypothetical, the plane lands and the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, do you stand up even though you’re in a middle seat in row 39? NO! Sit down, don’t move, there’s nowhere to go. The 200 people in front of you have to get up, grab their bags, text 30 of their friends and leave the aircraft before you can even reach the aisle. Yet on every flight people stand up immediately, as if this action will actually accomplish something. It will not. The worst example I have ever encountered was on a flight in Spain. As soon as the plane touched down, NOT AT THE GATE, a passenger got up and started going to the front to leave. The plane was still moving. I’ve never seen a flight attendant move so fast without a free first class meal being involved. Granted, this is the extreme of ignorant passenger behavior, but just play it safe and stay in your seat until you can move.

Ok, now that you’ve read through this easy to follow checklist, here’s a short quiz.

Dulles airport


1. In order to go through security you insist on doing nothing the TSA agent asks and instead engage in a debate on civil liberties.

A. Yes

B. No

2. When the flight starts the boarding process, you stand in front of the gate even though you are in Zone T.

A. Yes

B. No

3. Instead of checking your steamer trunk, you insist that it’s a personal item and bring it onboard the aircraft. Extra credit if you use it as a weapon against your fellow passengers.

A. Yes

B. No

4. As soon as the plane lands you clap wildly and jump out of your seat, ready to go.

A. Yes

B. No


Answers: If you answered A to every question, you are a horrible person and should never be allowed to fly. If you answered B, you are lovely and I can’t wait to join you on your next flight.

Being a good traveler isn’t rocket science. There aren’t a secret set of rules known only to the elite frequent fliers. Instead it takes just a small amount, tiny really, of common sense to be a good flier which in turn will make your experience better and you a happier person. I’m pretty sure it’ll also make you rich and more attractive.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

25 thoughts on “How To Fly On a Plane: A Slightly Sarcastic Checklist”

  1. That was too funny and your points are right on! Especially those over-sized carry-ons. I’m also waiting for airlines to enforce that rule! But, I won’t hold my breath. LOL.

  2. Ive never flown through the states (I avoided it last time I went long distance) so have never had to take my shoes off, but even still, I am aware you have to do it!!!
    In NZ we have very strict bio security checks which still seem to take people by surprise, even though there is a dozen signs telling them to dump their fruit!

    1. Ha, well that’s true. NZ is the only place I’ve been where I found an airport with ZERO security. Rotorua, no security or anything, just walk up to the plane. Caught me by surprise, I was sure I was missing something LOL

  3. And please for the love of the universe: don’t make crass jokes about bombs, killings and terrorists! Unless you like being removed from planes by Federal Agents with no sense of humor. I’m looking at you stupid Brazilian tourists…

  4. Ugh. So true…I waited in a security line behind newlyweds that had never flown before. Not only did they slow up the line being nauseatingly affectionate, they had to ask about everything. “Do I have to take off my wedding ring???”… and then leaving their belts on. Lots of deep breaths on my part.

  5. Great job Matt! You hit a lot of my pet peeves. I am always amazed when people board and have such a hard time with a simple combination of letters and numbers. Its letters and numbers – and not even difficult onces. It is not as though the rows are out of order, or a row is numbered 2,733. And, the seat choices usually only range from A to J or K. And, no airline I have been on has placed the K seats on the right and the A seats on the left.

    And, the best group of people who like to rush the door upon touch down – grannies on a non-legacy carrier, like Southwest or ATA, on flights to Vegas. It is as though they can’t wait to hit the airport slots.

  6. In defence of standing up: even if I’m at the back of the plane, if it was a long flight I’m sick of sitting in the cramped seat and just want to stretch my legs. I know I’m not going anywhere until everyone ahead of me leaves.

    I think the shoes thing is only in the States. Even so I’m aware of it when I fly through there and if I’m not wearing slip off shoes I have the laces undone and loosened by the time I reach the front of the line. Same with taking off my coat. I’ve never had to take off any jewellery now that I think about it. Hmm…

    1. I’m with Melissa on the standing – if I’ve been sitting down for hours it’s just so nice to be able to move. And sitting away from the aisle makes it more likely I’ll need to stand up asap, because I really try not to get out and disturb people during the flight.

      I’d join a campaign to enforce luggage limits, though! I always pack with obsessive attention to the nearest mm, and then end up sitting next to someone who’s complaining that their giant portmanteau doesn’t fit in the overhead locker and can they please store it on my toes instead.

  7. Cynthia Scarborough

    I’ve been on flights with these people. Definitely not fun. I think you covered all the main aggravating attitudes and actions!

  8. Great observations and take on things Matt.

    I agree that with the internet, TV and media there is little reason for people not to know the basics now. As they say, how hard can it be?

    The rush to board psychology is a hard one to explain. And for carry on bags, the fact airlines don’t enforce their policies is probably my biggest gripe at the moment about flying (which I do a lot of)!

  9. i’m flying for the first time next summer to visit my girlfriend up in ohio, and honestly i’ve been pretty nervous. i love this list though! it makes the idea of walking through an airport with no idea what i’m doing a lot less terrifying.

  10. So true! The only time I’ve flown was when I was 10, and still understood these things. Now I just have to remember them for Saturday.

  11. If people would take a hint from the NY Subway- “Courtesy Counts!” Simple courtesy makes the trip nicer for everyone. Instead of “I paid too much for this frikkin’ flight and now the plane is MINE,” realize there are people on the plane who are going back for a funeral, haven’t slept all night, are just as sick of their cranky toddler as you are, are on the last flight of a 36-hour journey…etc. It takes about 30 seconds of preplanning and paying attention to be able to get through security, to the gate, on and off the plane in an orderly manner.

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